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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Kellow Fiorini

Lana Turner - The Ultimate Movie Star pt 2

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

Lana Turner, 1948. Photo from Dr. Marco's Annex.

When her relationship with Tyrone Power ended, Turner attempted to quickly move on. MGM did damage control by casting her in two films with former co-stars who were the studio’s biggest names — Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy in 1947 and 1948. But Turner was getting harder to cast. Her sex appeal was linked to a reckless and volatile private life, and the star MGM so carefully created was beyond their control. As America became more conservative at the end of the 1940s, audiences wrote to complain about her “morality” and MGM dealt with the situation by casting her as villainesses. More negative headlines followed when she announced her engagement to multi-millionaire Bob Topping. Ignoring the bad press, she married husband number three (technically her fourth marriage) when she finished shooting “The Three Musketeers” in May 1948. Life magazine mocked her with a story entitled, “For the Fourth, and Definitely Last Time.”

Turner as Lady de Winter, with Vincent Price as Richelieu in MGM's Action, Adventure, The Three Musketeers, 1948.

Turner in Technicolor, as Lady de Winter in The Three Musketeers, 1948.

After the wedding, Turner took the first vacation she had since age 16, but marital trouble and boredom brought her back to MGM. She made “A Life of her Own” in 1950 with director George Cukor. Although it was a more mature part, the film wasn’t well received, and Cukor disowned it. By 1952 she was divorced and was facing several career problems. The studio system was collapsing with the advent of television, her last film was a flop, and by exploiting her private life in her onscreen roles, she became limited to playing an actress, a star, a wealthy woman, or a sinner. Still beautiful but not a kid, her image was hindering her career and MGM was looking to rid itself of an expensive property.

With Kirk Douglas in The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952. The film garnered 8 Oscar nominations and won 5, but Turner's raw performance was overlooked. MGM, for whom she'd worked so hard, didn't even submit her for consideration.

In 1951 and ’52, MGM cast her in a few lighthearted musicals to soften her image. The second of the two, a remake of The Merry Widow,” was a minor hit. Her next film, “The Bad and the Beautiful,” would give her real credibility as an actress. Boasting an all-star cast and directed by Vincente Minnelli, “The Bad and the Beautiful” is a meta movie about Hollywood with Turner playing an actress named Georgia. Turner put in a great performance but was overlooked when the film received seven Oscar nominations. MGM continued to cast her in bad musicals. After making “Diane” in 1955, MGM dropped her contract. The studio had raised her to be a movie star, but never prepared her for the real world. She didn’t even know how to make a hotel reservation on her own.

Film Stills of 1957, Johnny Stompanato, Lana Turner. Photo By Snap/Shutterstock.

Turner on the witness stand during the trial for the murder of Johnny Stompanato on April 4, 1958, and with her daughter Cheryl, age 14, in 1958. “I took a step forward and lifted the weapon. He ran in the blade. It went in. In! For three ghastly heartbeats, our bodies fused. He looked straight at me, unblinking… In slow motion, he pulled off and jerked in backward steps toward the bed… he knew his life was ending, and he hadn’t seen in coming.” Cheryl Crane from her biography "Detour."

Two years later, in 1957, producer Jerry Wald needed a name to head the cast of “Peyton Place.” Turner took the role of Constance MacKenzie. Though her character is the mother of a teenager, it didn’t really phase her — she needed the work. Before shooting began, Turner started seeing gangster Johnny Stompanato. It wasn’t long before he turned violent and possessive. Though she tried to end the affair, on April 4, 1958, he beat and threatened Turner in her home. Her teenage daughter, Cheryl, attempting to defend her mother, grabbed a butcher knife. Stompanato turned and walked into it. He was dead before the ambulance arrived. Her fourteen-year-old daughter was sent to juvenile hall during the murder trial and Turner’s life was savagely ripped apart in the headlines. Eerily, the real-life trial mirrored the one in her film, “Peyton Place,” which was released during the Stompanato murder trial. Fascinated movie audiences flocked to see the film and compare real life to Turner’s on-screen performance. The film became her one and only Oscar nomination — she lost to Joanne Woodward in “The Three Faces of Eve.” After the trial, Cheryl was placed in the custody of her grandmother. It would take years for the mother-daughter relationship to heal.

Turner on the stand in Peyton Place, 1957 Image by TCM.

Juanita Moore, Lana Turner, Imitation Of Life, 1959. Photo By Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock.

Tuner plays mom to Sandra Dee in Imitation of Life, 1959.

Turner made her last great film, “Imitation of Life,” in 1959. The film somewhat helped to revitalize her career and gave her some financial stability. In 1975 she was asked to appear on stage in New York to discuss her career in a series called “Legendary Ladies” (others included were Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, and Joan Crawford.) A packed audience gave her a prolonged standing ovation as she walked on stage in a white gown looking like a true glamour girl. By the mid 1980s, she retired from movies and TV.

Lana Turner passed away in 1995 of throat cancer, but to the end, she was a living legend.

Lana Turner With Daughter, Cheryl Crane – 1990. Photo By Snap/Shutterstock

Lana Turner, Two Girls On Broadway – 1940. Photo By MGM/Kobal/Shutterstock.

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